I often find it is not my place to say much in the current scheme of things in Egypt, but I find that in the absence of me saying things, a lot of nonsense goes by without people noticing.
Rubbish I’ve participated in recently:
“Let’s go to Tahrir.”
“Do you know what’s happening there? Why are people gathered?”
“No, but let’s go.”
In an interview the other day, Dalia Danish articulately said, “Tahrir has become a habit, and soon it will lose its value.” It’s something everyone knows already, but even as we do, we are afraid to say it. Tahrir has become the Jerusalem of democracy, the Mecca of freedom. It’s where we now go to derive meaning. It has replaced our failed loves, our lost jobs, and under that brave open sky we think we’ve found a vision that will guide our life from hereon. How shall we say that it will become meaningless, kitsch even?
Please don’t turn Tahrir into a t-shirt.
It’s time to grow up and go back to the drawing board, and start the hard task of thinking and, what is harder, to throw away your sketches and re-think.
At her talk on psychological effects of the revolution, Dalia answered some question on the fear of the future by assuring people that they had intelligence, and they should rely on it to make decisions. Yet ironically, Dalia herself sent me a message saying “You make me sound so intelligent,” as if she were not.
I too fear saying what I think, because there are other people who speak much louder and with much more confidence, even if they say things that make no sense to me at all.
Last afternoon when in Tahrir, Bibi-Aisha and Birte observed that some stalls were even selling knives. Seeing the politically charged atmosphere, it didn’t seem like a wise idea to us, but no one was taking an opinion poll on this, and no one seemed to care. It doesn’t make the charts on twitter, or break news like deaths and army brutality. The effects of danger come through, but its potential in Tahrir never remarked.
At times, being at Tahrir seems like fighting for a right you’ve already won. You are free to assemble, free to discuss, free to share opinion, free to publish, and yes, free to sit and squat on Tahrir for hours on end.
It is not just ‘the army’ fighting against ‘the people’ and divisions are not sown by ‘the army’ within ‘the people.’ Here is the evident which already divides those in and out of Tahrir:
This huge bottleneck in the streets and lives of Cairo is bothersome.
People are putting paints on their babies’ faces with Egyptian flags, at the same place where at night people will be firing guns on youth.
Your guy friend is standing behind your girl friend, so she’s not groped – even though, post-revolution you expect everyone to become a saint and keep their hands off women at protests.
You don’t carry valuables on to Tahrir, even the ones that you would before revolution, because it’s a playground for pickpockets.
The problems are not in authorities alone. The problem is in the process of communication. If I’m unhappy, I’ll go squat in Tahrir, and all are free to join – pickpockets, harrassers, hawkers, and news-tourists. But, it will take years and years to form the democracy you want, and even then you will not have it, because it is not a one-person vision.
The basics of what I’ve learned is that freedom comes with responsibility. And as we act as we do, not only are we hijacking Tahrir of its current uses and purposes, we are also hijacking the meaning it gave to our recent past.
I would advocate the sitting down and talking, and even better, the listening. And if you must, because you do not feel heard and respected, then yes, take to the streets, but don’t take to Tahrir. Don’t take from Tahrir what it already has achieved. Don’t make Tahrir a habit, as Dalia said, Don’t make it lose its value.